Archive | May, 2012

Interview with Mesa Water’s Paul Shoenberger on CalDesal

Interview with Mesa Water’s Paul Shoenberger on CalDesal

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

In January, I sat down for 30 minutes with Paul Shoenberger, the general manager for the Mesa Consolidated Water District in Costa Mesa, California, to talk about CalDesal a non-profit organization whose 70 or so members, according to April, 2011 stats (neither Mesa nor CalDesal will release up to date figures), are about evenly divided between public water agencies and private water-related companies.

CalDesal lobbies for the construction of ocean and groundwater water desalination (although the emphasis is mostly on ocean desalination) and for the “streamlining” of environmental regulations to help achieve that goal.

Mesa Water Directors James Atkinson and James Fisler mix up business with pleasure at CalDesal mixer. Photo: Public records

Shortly into the 21st Century, plans to build ocean desalination plants where proposed for the cities of Carlsbad and Huntington Beach. Most of the permitting process has been completed for both plants but huge financial obstacles remain after construction costs and estimated water rates have skyrocketed.

Poseidon Resources Inc. would build the two nearly identical ocean desalination plants, each of which will suck in over 100 million gallons of sea water each per day to produce 50 million gallons of potable drinking water. They would be the largest ocean desalination plants in the United States at an estimated cost of over $700 million each.

In 2006, twenty-nine ocean desalination plants of various sizes were envisioned for the California coastline all the way to Santa Cruz, including a 15 million gallon per day facility that just finished its testing phase in Dana Point.

But after more than a decade of planning and marketing, and pushing projects through the planning and permitting process, a tight coalition of water industry leaders, real estate developers, and public-sector technocrats is far from realizing its desalination dream.

Only nine ocean desalination proposals remain in contention and not a single one has broken ground or seems likely to anytime soon.

That’s good news for opposition groups who have long claimed that ocean desalination is too costly and damaging to the ocean environment, and that conservation, sewage water reclamation, and increased water capture and storage are the right methods for ensuring an adequate water supply for California in the future.

Shoenberger and other proponents, however, officially insist that ocean desalination is not a “silver bullet” but will be a vital part of California’s water portfolio. They depict the process as environmentally sound and sustainable and say that costs for desalinated ocean water will one day be less than the costs of imported water from the San Joaquin Delta and the Colorado River.

In any case, they say, developing ocean desalination infrastructure is worth the extra cost due to potentially disastrous water supply outcomes for California from earthquakes and drought, and that it will help create badly needed jobs.

But public opposition to building ocean desalination plants along the coast has grown stronger over the past decade along with other potential obstacles to plans to construct ocean desalination plants in California.

CalDesal mixer and board meeting

Paul Shoenberger (r) with CalDesal member at 2011 spring board meeting/mixer. Photo: Public records

Once-through-cooling, the intake method preferred by desalination proponents because it sucks in huge quantities of sea water through already existing intake systems attached to electrical power generating plants – like exist in Carlsbad and Huntington Beach – is deemed destructive to the coast’s fragile balance of marine life by ocean scientists, and state regulators have ordered it to be phased out within a decade.

How that ban will apply to ocean desalination, if at all, is under consideration by state regulators. Opponents and proponents are vying for influence in that debate.

In the midst of a weak economy, and as the research and development needed to provide the promised cost-saving technological improvements has reached a dead end, even some long-time ocean desalination proponents are now questioning the efficacy of large desalination projects. Continue Reading

Posted in Environment, Headlines, Poseidon, Water, Water Boarding6 Comments

Advertising: Are You Buying It?

Advertising: Are You Buying It?

By Sarah (Steve) Mosko
Special to the Surf City Voice

Here’s an inescapable reality: There are only two ways to be rich – make more or want less. This is known as “Rimo’s Rule,” though that’s beside the point.

Rather, the point here is to recognize, in our consumer-based, advertising-saturated society, how very hard it is to want less materially yet why we must to do so anyway. While it’s intuitive that most people – both the “99 percent” and the “1 percent” – could achieve greater contentment in life by better appreciating the non-material and material riches they already have, there are far-reaching, global consequences of which path to richness a society as a whole chooses.

Consider an often repeated fact, that Americans make up less than five percent of the world’s population but consume 20 to 25 percent of the world’s resources (like food, fresh water, wood, minerals and energy). This means that, on average, Americans consume five to seven times the resources per capita as the rest of humanity combined.

Renowned ecologist and agronomist David Pimentel of Cornell Universityhas calculated that the Earth’s resources could sustain a population of only two billion if everyone had the current average standard of living in the United States. His detailed analysis was published in the journal Human Ecology in 2010.

The world population is already at seven billion, and the latest United Nations projection is that the head count will reach 10 billion well before 2100. For all 10 billion to enjoy the American standard of living, Pimentel’s data imply that it would take four additional Earth planets to supply the necessary natural resources.

Even if that calculation is off by, say, a whole planet, it’s evident that the American lifestyle – with big homes, plasma TVs, multiple cars running on fossil fuels – is not a sustainable model. Serious threats to the environment, like global climate change, water shortages and pollution from industrial chemicals, continue to mount up, and well over half of humanity is already malnourished, according to the World Health Organization.

Our consumer culture is based on a belief that happiness derives from having more stuff, and advertising is the driving engine of consumerism. The primary aim of much advertising is to create need where none previously existed. Whatever is being marketed, the message boils down to either you gotta have one if you don’t already or, if you already own one, you need a better one.

Through his whimsical characters and rhymes, Dr. Seuss warned way back in his 1971 children’s book “The Lorax” of the threat to the environment when greed compels corporations to fabricate needs: Environmental devastation ensued when the book’s inhabitants were convinced they had to have “the needs, which nobody needs.” An animated film adaptation of the “The Lorax” is in theaters now. Continue Reading

Posted in Energy, Environment, Headlines1 Comment

‘Superman’ Water Manager Slams Surf City Voice on Journalism Ethics – SCV replies to John Schatz of Santa Margarita Water

‘Superman’ Water Manager Slams Surf City Voice on Journalism Ethics – SCV replies to John Schatz of Santa Margarita Water

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Several months ago this reporter submitted a Public Records Act request to John Schatz, a public official of the Santa Margarita Water District in south Orange County.

Schatz responded in a timely fashion with the requested information, complete with explanatory comments and some strong advice on the ethics of journalism.

Mr. Schatz, who is the seventh highest paid public agency official in California, recently announced that he is retiring soon, but he has been a prolific worker by all accounts.

Not only does he have two seemingly conflicting jobs at SMWD, where he is the legal counselor and general manager, but he also hires out to other water districts as their legal counselor, including a sub agency to a water district that has the president of Cadiz Inc. working as its chief legal counselor.

Schatz’s ability to multitask and collect multiple salaries totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars, while his employer denies any conflict of interest, inspired David Nazar of SoCal PBS (KOCE) to nickname him “Superman” in an investigative report last January.

Schatz has also been pushing a controversial plan by SMWD to pay Cadiz Inc. to deliver water from an aquifer in the Cadiz Valley – in the Mohave Desert – to Orange County.

That plan is a revised version of a similar proposal by Cadiz Inc. made to and ultimately rejected by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California a decade ago.

(At that time, this reporter was an organizer for a public interest organization, Public Citizen, which opposed the project. My stint with Public Citizen lasted all but 6-8 months. Since then, I haven’t worked with Public Citizen or any other organization on the Cadiz issue. Nor do I work for any other organization, whatsoever.)

Critics of the revived project, including Sen. Diane Feinstein, claim that the Cadiz aquifer, located under land owned by Cadiz Inc., will be sucked dry by SMWD’s plan and that the desert environment above it will be ruined.

You can see a thorough and objective review of the facts of that project in a another report by Nazar and in a story published in the Voice courtesy of the San Bernardino Sentinel newspaper.

Aside from juggling the huge work load and ethical concerns of multiple water agencies simultaneously, including working under the president of Cadiz Inc., Schatz is also concerned about the ethics of journalism.

At the end of his letter to me, he wrote: Continue Reading

Posted in Environment, Headlines, Water, Water Boarding2 Comments

Proposed MWDOC Transparency Reform Meets Inside Resistance

Proposed MWDOC Transparency Reform Meets Inside Resistance

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Municipal Water District of Orange County Director Brett Barbre’s proposal to increase transparency at the agency through self-policing of financial and conflict of interest disclosures is moving at a snail’s pace, if at all.

Last February, Barbre told the Voice that he wanted to have the MWDOC board of directors certify that to the best of its knowledge no conflicts of interest exist for its elected directors, representatives that it appoints to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), and all MWDOC employees who are required to report under state disclosure regulations.

Barbre would have the board review so-called 700 financial disclosure forms and compare income sources to a list of MWDOC vendors to help weed out potential conflicts of interest.

“I believe we need to police ourselves,” Barbre said, in an e-mail to the Voice at that time. “If it’s not placed on the agenda, look for some fireworks,” he advised.

It wasn’t put on the agenda, but Barbre brought the issue up anyway March 14 under another, broader, agenda item during the last moments of a meeting of the Administration and Finance Committee, which he chairs. A brief but telling discussion ensued with board president Jeffrey Thomas cautiously agreeing to place the item on April’s meeting agenda.

But the item has yet to be discussed in detail or for purposes of a vote because General Manager Kevin Hunt, acting on instructions from Thomas, who Hunt says acted on advice of legal counsel, kept it off the agenda. Continue Reading

Posted in Headlines, MWD, MWDOC, Water Boarding0 Comments

Water Board’s Penthouse-View Meeting: More transparency please, and save some food for the water buffaloes

Water Board’s Penthouse-View Meeting: More transparency please, and save some food for the water buffaloes

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

A “special” meeting of the Board of Directors of the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC), originally designed by Best Best & Krieger of Irvine– the largest public agency law firm in California – to schmooze its new clients, became a public embarrassment Tuesday when the plush solitude of its penthouse-view executive board room was invaded by a small band of transparency advocates.

MWDOC meetings are normally held on the ground (and only) floor of its home office, humbly but conveniently located next to the County’s sewage treatment plant in Fountain Valley.

Despite the surprise BBK location, in addition to the usual inconvenience of morning meetings that are designed to accommodate MWDOC’s directors, most of whom are retired from professional life, but not the working public, 10 citizens at large—a rare turnout by MWDOC standards—attended, barely fitting into a small setting that clearly wasn’t intended for them.

But that setting was perfect for MWDOC’s seven water buffaloes: a towering view of Irvine’s skyline to be enjoyed with two large bowls of salad, what looked like two large dishes of lasagna, and plenty of chunky chocolate chip cookies, all nicely placed buffet style.

BBK’s recent additions, partner Russell G. Behrens and counsel Daniel J. Payne, both know what six of the seven MWDOC directors like (the seventh, Wayne Osborne, is a new comer) because they worked for them before as part of Kidman Behrens and Tague.

In January they left KBT for BBK and took MWDOC with them, entering into a five month test, according to MWDOC’s General Manager, Kevin Hunt. The purpose of Tuesday’s meeting was for BBK to seduce and corral MWDOC’s water buffaloes, thus sealing the deal.

So BBK’s managing partner, Eric Garner, used his very brief presentation to try to impress the board with the firm’s expertise in public agency law in general and water law in particular.

“When I’m not managing lawyers, I do still practice water law,” Garner cheerfully explained. “It would be a great privilege to work with the district if the opportunity ever arises for the need for my expertise. I can’t imagine ever practicing any water (sic) but water law to me. It is by far the most fascinating, interesting area in the legal world.”

Garner might get that opportunity to use his expertise sooner than he expected; but, judging from the sour look on his face, he wasn’t happy to hear former Huntington Beach mayor Debbie Cook infer that the opportunity would only arrive due to BBK’s incompetence. Continue Reading

Posted in Environment, Headlines, MWDOC, Poseidon, Water, Water Boarding2 Comments

Comment: Water Agency Should be More Transparent on Huntington Beach Desal Plant

Comment: Water Agency Should be More Transparent on Huntington Beach Desal Plant

By Joe Geever
Surf Rider Foundation

Joe Geever is the Water Programs Manager for the Surf Rider Foundation, which works to protect ocean resources. He made these comments at the May 15 meeting of the Board of Directors of the Municipal Water District of Orange County. Originally, the directors had planned to go into closed session to discuss pricing arrangements for water to be delivered from an as yet unpermitted and unfinanced ocean desalination plant proposed by Poseidon Resources Inc. to be built in Huntington Beach, California. The meeting was criticized as a violation of California’s open meetings law, the Brown Act, and postponed until September.

My name is Joe Geever and I’m with the Surf Rider Foundation.

I don’t know if all the board members remember – the staff certainly does – that we actively supported your  desal pilot plant in Doheny. And we did that for two reasons. One, because we thought that research needed to be done to identify what the best intake for minimizing marine life mortality was. But also because of the assurances that staff gave us that this would be a completely open, transparent, public process in everything that went on with that project. And they have kept to that promise.

Now what I read is that this process [for the closed Poseidon meeting] is quite different. It feels as if you’re trying to find what the legal limits are for avoiding public transparency.

I guess I would urge you to lean in the other direction, to be as open and transparent and involve the public as much as possible from the beginning.

In my mind, it’s kind of ironic that you’re waiting to see how things play out with San Diego Count with the water purchase agreement from there because I think that’s the model for how not to do it.

The project proponent [Poseidon Resources] would like to blame all the delays on regulatory processes, when actually that project has been stalled because of information withheld or information that was submitted to regulatory agencies that was later discovered to be false. And all of this was happening behind closed doors. It hasn’t helped them move the project forward and it hasn’t engendered any kinfo of public confidence in the project at all.

You can get attorneys together and argue for minimal transparency and public participation and probably have a lot of legal battles over that. Or, you can lean the other way, toward as much transparency and public participation as possible, like you have in Dana Point, and see where the chips fall. So, I would urge you to lean that way.

 

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Posted in Environment, Headlines, MWDOC, Poseidon, Water, Water Boarding1 Comment

Comment: Former Surf City Mayor says Closed Water Agency Meeting Violates the Brown Act

Comment: Former Surf City Mayor says Closed Water Agency Meeting Violates the Brown Act

By Debbie Cook

Environmental attorney Debbie Cook is a former Huntington Beach City Council member and two-term mayor of that city. She served on California’s State Desalination Task Force and as a city official voted against the ocean desalination plant proposed by Poseidon Resources Inc. Cook has been monitoring government transparency at local water districts. She made these public comments at a special meeting held by the Board of Directors of the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC), May 15, 2012, in the penthouse floor that lodges the offices of MWDOC’s legal counsel, Best Best & Krieger. She addressed the board’s postponement of a closed session item concerning water rate negotiations between MWDOC and Posedion Inc. after receiving protests. Cook explains why that meeting would violate the Brown Act, which requires government agencies to hold meetings open to the public.

There has been an unsettling trend among water agencies to conduct more and more of the people’s business in closed session under the guise of the “real estate negotiations” exception. While you can always pay an attorney to argue any absurd position, I urge you to reconsider such a course.

The Brown Act allows very narrow exceptions to conducting the public’s business in public and the real estate exception is perhaps the most narrowly drawn of all of them.

Poseidon is not selling, nor are you buying, real estate or real property within the meaning of the legislature’s intent. It is a contorted analysis that says otherwise.

Real Property is land and whatever is erected or growing on or affixed to it. But once severed from the land, things that are growing or attached to it are considered “goods.”

There is no “goods” exception to the Brown Act. The legislature never intended for water or mineral rights or crops to be bootstrapped onto the real estate exception. Any contrary interpretation of their intent would swallow the exception. Continue Reading

Posted in Environment, Headlines, MWDOC, Poseidon, Water, Water Boarding1 Comment

GM Nixes Secret Desal Talks with Poseidon After Brown Act Complaints

GM Nixes Secret Desal Talks with Poseidon After Brown Act Complaints

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Confronted by complaints of illegality, the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC) dropped a scheduled closed session section of a meeting of its board of directors scheduled for today (May 15) at 11 a.m.

General Manager Kevin Hunt had scheduled the closed session in order to meet with officials of Poseidon Resources Inc., the company that proposes to build the as yet unfinanced and unpermitted $750 million ocean desalination plant that would convert about 100 million gallons of ocean water into 50 million gallons of drinking water every day.

The public meeting will go ahead minus the Poseidon item, but instead of holding session at MWDOC’s regular location in Fountain Valley, the seven board members will meet at the offices of the agency’s new legal team, Best, Best & Krieger (BKK).

Lunch will be served, according to the agenda.

The topic of discussion for the now deleted closed session item, according to the original agenda, was “price and terms of payment” for the water that Poseidon would produce.

California’s open meetings law, the Brown Act, requires that all legislative meetings be open to the public, with certain exceptions like negotiations for the sale or lease of real property. Water rights are treated as real property and Hunt, under advice from BKK, assumes that Poseidon holds water rights for the drinking water it will presumably produce, according to Hunt, a view that is disputed. Continue Reading

Posted in Environment, Headlines, MWDOC, Poseidon, Water, Water Boarding4 Comments


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